Football is officially back. There has been plenty of drama surrounding the Raiders with Antonio Brown’s feet and helmet grabbing many headlines. Hard Knocks airing this week put rookie safety Johnathan Abram on display as well drawing both admiration and ire for his brash antics on the first episode. With all that buzz, it can be easy to forget there is football to be played.
For those of us who welcome back pure football, Preseason week 1 against the Rams is a time to see how the players are developing. The defensive unit played the most consistent football only allowing the Rams to score 3 points all game.
The Raiders’ rookie defenders were front and center for much of the game making their fair share of plays to help the defense stall the Rams’ attack. Here’s a look at a few of the rookies.
Ferrell came out of college well known for his ability to stop the run. The biggest test for rookie edge players is their ability to hold up against the run and Ferrell is on his way to prove that he won’t be a liability as a starting base end. This rep shows him playing left end over a tight end. The tight end has no chance of blocking the heavy handed rookie and he crosses the blocker’s face with relative ease to bring down the ball carrier in the backfield.
Ferrell played the most snaps of any rookie and he showed flexibility, coming in as a nickel rusher to play defensive tackle in passing situations. Gruden said in his press conference this was because so many defensive tackles were inactive this week but there is a good chance Ferrell could play plenty of this alignment with Key and Crosby on the outside as speed rushers. Ferrell does a great job reading the QB and working over to get a hustle play and potentially save a first down scramble.
Abram wasted no time, getting in on this tackle on the first play from scrimmage. Abram is playing box safety and has “force” responsibility against the run. He trusts his eyes and gets outside of the ball carrier forcing him back inside. Officially Jason Cabinda received credit for this tackle but Abram will get a positive grade from coaches for turning it back to his teammates.
Abram was often around the ball but played only a short time before yielding to Erik Harris and Curtis Riley.
I’ll go out on a limb and say Mullen had the best game of any rookie defender and maybe any defender other than perhaps Arden Key. He was targeted only once and played tight coverage throughout the first half. This pass break up above shows Mullen pedaling off in man coverage before coming up and making a play on the ball.
Mullen’s only question from his college film was his ability to do just that as he predominately played press man coverage while at Clemson. The only reps where he struggled in college were in this type of coverage. It’s promising to see him make this play and show his early development. He will push Daryl Worley to start across from Gareon Conley.
Crosby was getting in on tackles all over the field but usually he was in pursuit and the ball carrier had already gained yards downfield. He needs to improve his ability to hold the edge against the run but this tackle on the backside of zone is a glimpse into what Crosby will be early on in his career for the Raiders; an effort player who will hustle to the ball.
It’s worth pointing out Crosby had broken his hand earlier in the game and came back in with a cast before making this tackle. He should be okay to start the year as a sub package edge rusher.